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  • Debbie Schwake

The Definitive Guide to Sales and Marketing Alignment

Updated: May 7, 2021

How to put two powerful forces together to create a predictable, profitable revenue pipeline.


The Aberdeen Group says that sales and marketing alignment can lead to a 32% increase in year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth.


Sales and marketing alignment can help your company become 67% better at closing deals, and can help generate 209% more revenue from marketing. (ZoomInfo)


 

Panacea. That’s what sales and marketing alignment feels like. And it’s a profitable feeling.


Since as far back as any of us can remember, sales and marketing have been quite notably at odds. Pitted against each other in a competition of who gets the resources based on who’s winning. And in so many cases, sales wins because it feels too risky to cut the direct line to the wins in the CRM system.


The measuring stick? Well, typically the primary item used to calculate the score has been who generated the lead.


In many CRM solutions, single attribution is the only tool that can be used to determine how the prospect learned about your company. In other words, the system may only be capable of listing one lead source per new lead. In the days of old this may have been somewhat useful, when it really was the tradeshow and only the tradeshow that brought new leads into your organization. That was way before the Internet.


But today’s messy buyer journey looks more like the buyer is lost on the map than walking a straight path from buying phase to buying phase. And quite frankly, CRM’s have not kept up with this. Nor have some of the leadership team. Lead generation is so frequently reported “by lead source” (singular) on a pie chart used to justify categorized marketing spend.


Further, the aforementioned pie chart’s categories are often attributed to either sales or marketing. Many companies do not have technology sophisticated enough to measure multi level attribution. And sadly, the heart of competition between sales and marketing lies in who gets credit for the sale.


How scary would it be if you threw that measurement methodology away and said who cares about attribution? I can tell you from experience that it’s scarier to leave it as is because you’re enabling that competition between your sales and marketing teams.


No one cares about attribution in a company where sales and marketing are aligned.


That’s a bold statement. How on earth do you know where to spend your marketing money if you can’t see that events are the largest driver of new leads in the marketing plan?


Great question. Let’s say for the sake of this paper, lead source is not relevant to sales and marketing alignment. And, we can neatly package that discussion into another study (about marketing revenue generation.) Fair?



 

Life is not linear, nor is it a straight walk down a straight path. We are not as focused as humans as we used to be. In fact we now jump from subject to subject, following a rat hole from a business subject and ending at how to build a doghouse out of old pallets. (I literally just did this.) Our unpredictable habits have increased the marketing challenge. Now we have to get your attention and try to keep it long enough to get you to act.


 


The sales & marketing alignment step by step guide.


Step 1: Marketing: it’s your move. Learn about the profession that is sales.


Any great relationship begins with both an understanding of one another and mutual respect. Often, sales and marketing are at odds because they simply do not speak each other’s language. And in some cases, enough pride exists that they definitely do not want the other to know this.


Speaking from a marketing leadership role, I always recommend that marketing makes the first move. With today’s buyer’s journey where so much overlap exists between sales and marketing, it is imperative for the marketing leader to learn about sales.


Sales and marketing are both professions with very different principles. We plan, think, and behave very differently when it comes to our role in the organization and our relationships with our buyers.


Try this experiment, marketers. Sit on a sales call on listen only and take notes, listing the top three things you heard from the prospect. When the call is over, ask your sales team member to list the top three things they heard on the call with their prospect. Chances are that even while you were on the very same call, your professional principles led you to hear very different things.


For example, sales may have heard:

  • My budget has to be approved…

  • Can we demo two other people in my department…

  • What other options exist…


And in that same conversation, marketing heard:

  • My biggest challenge is convincing my boss to spend the money…

  • Other leaders need to believe in this too...

  • I’m not confident yet in this decision...


Okay, I agree with you that this is a simplistic example. But time after time when I compare my call notes with sales they look very different.


But here’s the thing, can you see how complementary these are? To my earlier point about the different principles of the sales and marketing professions, these points of view are a winning combination when they’re used to work together. More on this later.


I started this section by suggesting marketing needs to learn about sales. Mostly, this learning helps you to understand each other from different perspectives, by first admitting you may not understand each other. In other words, it is the differences in the two professions that are a perfect complement and break down any competitiveness between you. It allows you to put the focus on your customer and surround that customer with the information they need to feel confident and informed prior to making a decision to partner with you.


Step 2: Start working together


There’s a real cool thing about this step, and that is, it doesn’t matter where you start, it just matters that you actually start. Here are some suggestions:


  • Ask your sales team members, individually, to take you through their prospecting efforts. Giving no suggestions or direction, just listen to what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and who they’re talking to.

  • Sales, invite marketing to listen only on your sales calls. You can choose whether you want to introduce that they’re on the phone listening (probably a good idea) for educational purposes.

  • Go through all leads, asking your sales team to describe how they categorize them, schedule follow-ups, and when they call them dead.

  • Review all open opportunities to determine where they are in the decision process and identify what information may help them move along.


The point of this part in the exercise is to allow marketing to get involved directly in the important parts of sales so they can learn and gain empathy for what the prospects are saying, the questions they’re asking, and the objections they’re posing.


Step 3: Plan the focus


Sometimes a failure to get started is the result of not knowing where to start. Here are some ideas:


Opportunities


Remember those differences in communication I mentioned earlier? Well, opportunity management is a great place for marketing and sales to align for a powerful management strategy. Here’s why.


For sales, once a quote is presented to the prospect, the usual next step is close, Okay, gross oversimplification, but let’s assume it’s really this simple for the sake of this example. This being the case, sales would follow-up with some frequency to check-in on when the close might happen. This “are we there yet” mentality can be supplemented by marketing. Does anyone want to hear only “are we there yet” over and over?


In fact, they may be ignoring you because you’re asking!


Here’s how sales and marketing alignment works in opportunity management.


When a decision-maker is about to make a purchase on behalf of their company, they’re doing so with some level of skepticism and fear. No one wants to make a bad decision. Alternatively, they’re also weighing whether “now” is the right time to make the investment. Remember, “do nothing” is a far bigger competitor than any actual competitor.


Your decision-maker needs support to feel confident about their decision. Using content can help remind your prospect why they are engaged with you and why your product/service is good for their organization. They need to be reminded of the outcomes they can expect as a result of working with you. And marketing knows the best assets and content to support each stage in an opportunity - because they created this content.


These are some examples of the supporting content that can be shared during this whitespace between quote and decision.


  • What happens if the prospect doesn’t make a change (purchase your product/service)

  • What is the outcome they can expect (for their company) after purchase?

  • Why you’re better than any competitor

  • Why they’re making a great decision


In the long run, the faster you get to either “no” or “yes” the better. Valuable time can be wasted during that time that would be better spent managing other opportunities or prospecting for new.


The alternative might be that your prospect ignores you because all they keep hearing from you is “are we there yet?” And no one wants to hear that over and over.


So work together to set up the right communications while a prospect is making a decision.


Prospecting


This part of the sales process is so challenging that salespeople often have to block time on their calendar to do it each day, week, or any given increment. Even though we know how important it is to create new relationships and meet new prospective customers, prospecting most closely resembles “cold calling” in its definition.


But today’s prospecting should not be cold.


Marketing can augment the sales prospecting efforts with volume and quality, if marketing knows the prospecting goals of the sales team. Note the communication prerequisite here.


Sales may tend to see prospects as a group of people who may be interested in buying a particular service. Marketing understands the similarities in challenges faced within segments of like-minded people.


Don’t let anyone fool you. Proper time and research can get you closer-than-most to hitting the right message with a group of prospects. But prospecting at its core is a quantity game. And it’s usually the marketing department that has the keys to the quantity engine. Let me explain.


 

Prospecting at scale using marketing technology. In most organizations, the marketing department runs the ESP (email service provider) application. Whether HubSpot, MailChimp, Salesforce, or another application, it's usually the marketing team who sends “mass” email communications. They develop and build templates, sequences, and nurturing emails to send consistent communications to contacts within the database in the hopes of maintaining familiarity with company contacts, top of mind-ness for potential sales, and lead generation.

 

This has never been the perfect science. Sophisticated marketers know how to slice and dice data into segments related to personas, titles, interests, etc., to make the receiving message as meaningful to the contact as possible. However in many cases, there is still a bit of lumping going on, where not enough data exists to accurately segment the group.


Be careful with the last segment. Your communications are a reflection of your brand. You definitely don’t want to send things that are not relevant. It’s much better to find another tactic than it is to email when you’re not sure, lest you’ll get deleted forever.


In most cases, collaborating on prospecting means that your outbound calling scripts and emails are stronger because they’re based on more information and they’re segmented.


Read on.


Cold Calling is Not Cold: Sources of information about your prospect


Let’s take a moment to consider where and how you can learn more about your prospect.

Social Media - On social media, we share things we support, like, and are interested in. Scour social media platforms to learn more personal information about your prospect. But heed this warning: this familiarity is in no way a shortcut to build your relationship. Don’t use this information to pretend to know someone. Use it only as a guide to understand what they believe in and only to the point it is relevant to your discussion with them. And to avoid uncomfortable missteps.


Buying Role - Are they for you or against you? Do you rely on them to take your message upstream to decision makers? Or are you trying to win them over? These context cues can prevent you from a misstep and can help arm you with the right information at the right time to support their role.


Work Title - Their title can tell you generally what they are responsible for or accountable to at their job. Purchasing agent, for example, might tell you this individual was asked to source something important for their organization. A purchasing director, on the other hand, may still be comparing products for the best option for their organization.


Profession - An individual’s professional field gives you insight into the principles they rely on to help inform their decisions. Someone with a finance background is likely rooted in maximizing revenue and conserving cash. Operations, on the other hand, may be most motivated by how your service integrates into their organization.


Ego - My favorite part of learning about someone is to understand what drives them. Ego doesn’t mean egotistical. In fact it has to do with what makes people feel like they are doing good work. For some it could be praise for a job well done or impressing a manager. For others it might be the thrill of getting projects done on time. By understanding the motivation of the person you’re working with, you can match important parts of your value proposition to the motivations of your buyer.


 

Calling


I am of the opinion that no one makes enough calls because as a prospecting target myself, the email to call ratio is about 200:1 respectively. And here’s the thing, I pay attention to those calls. After listening to the voicemail, I search for the corresponding email. If either of these effectively sells a value I’m interested in, I respond. So as a general rule, call and email. And leave a brilliant voicemail. More on that in another post.


Old-fashioned mail & Direct Mail


At the time of writing this paper, the global pandemic has most of us working from remote locations, which makes this topic a little more challenging. But depending on who you are targeting, executives are still making their way into their offices at least on occasion. So if you really want to get someone’s attention, send them an old-fashioned piece of mail.


This can be a handwritten note or a fun curated gift. There’s something about receiving mail that makes people feel like you’re taking an extra step to get their attention. And often, they’ll agree to talk to you as a result.


But don’t cut corners. Prospects expect two things: that you’ve done your homework, and that you very, very quickly sell your value proposition. When you’ve done these things correctly, these two are super aligned. In other words, you understand your prospect’s pain points and your product/service solves them.


Target Accounts


Organizations select target accounts based on revenue potential. Let’s face it, there could be a number of reasons in a company’s strategic plan to pick a group of target accounts, but the primary reason is to generate new and long-term revenue.


These accounts are often selected by product/service fit, similarities to current customers, and a host of other reasons. Then, sales team members are assigned to “go after” these accounts, many times with little information about the people within the organization.


Enter marketing. In the classic account-based marketing scenario, sales and marketing align to define who the people are within each target account, how they will be targeted, and what success results from these efforts.


Key information that informs the target account process include:


Depending on your industry or product, you may have additional considerations and more questions. And you should. The point of this step is to ensure you have a plan and enough information to have measurable results.


When a target account is selected because great potential exists in expanding within the account, your sales team members may need to get referred to the proper decision-maker.


Account Reviews


Account reviews are a special consideration for your current customers. Not only is this a great way to solidify your relationship with them, learn from them what’s going well and what might cause them to look for another vendor, but it’s also a great way to sell deeper into your accounts.


Properly done, your account review is focused on the outcomes your customer was promised when you sold them your product or service. As such, the review should start with just that information. Highlight the key areas you work with your customer and what they get as a result of this partnership. I can’t stress enough that this should be focused on their business, not what you do for them.


When you know your customers well, you can naturally introduce another product/service or two that you think might be an opportunity for the two of you to partner. Be careful here! This is not just a chance for you to present your 84-page slide deck of every product or service you offer. Your relationship with your customer should give you an indication of other areas of potential opportunity. And like any other sales conversation, this should be presented as a line of questions.


  • How are you achieving…?

  • Like some of our other customers, are you having trouble with…?

  • What would it look like if we automated…?

  • Your competitor uses us for…?


A great account review is when your customer starts talking about other areas of their business where your competitors are not performing well. Use this information as an opportunity to win new business.


Account reviews are a lost art form. Many companies fear them because customers use the opportunity to share troubles they’re having with your service. But wouldn’t you rather have a chance to fix it?


Referrals


Asking for a referral is an exceptional skill among the best sales team members. I won’t pretend to add value to that activity. However, there are more opportunities to get referrals with marketing’s help.


Fairly frequently, you wish to expand within a customer’s organization to sell more products or services. However, if your primary contact within that company doesn’t deal with this part of the business, a referral is necessary.


Referrals are tricky in this situation. Likely, only a few of your contacts will be willing to cough up the name, email, and phone number of the person in their organization that you need to be speaking to. I get it because I won’t do it either.


Instead, marketing can help you to develop two templates to work this angle:


  1. Could you pass this along? This template kindly asks for the referral by giving your contact “pass-along” information. Pass along information is a short paragraph describing the value proposition (customized to the person you’re passing along to) of the product/service. Including this means you’re not asking your contact to try to describe what you’re selling, which is never a good idea!

  2. Would you share the name of…? When you have a great relationship with your contact, like they really love working with you, it may be appropriate to simply ask for a name so you can reach out directly. Make sure in your communications you tell your contact that you’ll mention their name when you reach out (i.e. I have worked with John in accounting for many years on x, and he gave me your name.) And to increase your chances of response, add “John Smith gave me your contact information” in the email subject line and mention it on your voicemail message.


Building Trust


Perhaps the most important part of this alignment is trust.


Trust is built as a result of understanding. When sales understands marketing’s objectives, the road to trust begins. But it’s a bit more than that.


Sales team members want marketers to acknowledge that sales is a profession with very specific skills and methodologies. And some of the most important aspects to the sales profession are priority and time management. To sales, time is money because salespeople write their paycheck every day.


At the core, marketing has to earn the trust of sales by demonstrating understanding of what qualification means. When the leads marketing sends to sales are not high quality, sales feels as though time is wasted in marketing’s assigned follow-up cadence. In contrast, sales team members have more important priorities to focus on.


Sales also wants marketing to respect and understand priority. Marketers are not involved enough to know the intricacies of the relationships sales team members have with their customers and prospects.


Talk about these topics regularly. Let sales guide timing and buy into terminology that you share. Agree to terms.


 

Step 4: Measure and iterate


The final step in the sales and marketing alignment process is measure and iterate. In today’s digital world, campaigns never end, and relationships never have to wither. We are always “on” and that can work to your benefit.


As you move through this process you’ll watch for results, tweak the strategies and tactics, and try again. Just make sure you add outer limits to your efforts. The general rule is to refresh your pipeline regularly, at an increment related to your sales cycle. No one wants to waste too much time on efforts that aren’t working.


I would like to fill this part of the lesson with brilliant measurements and dashboard examples, however those are not a one size fits all. Rather, I will talk about measurements that matter, or shall I say the singular word: measurement.


Your ultimate goal is revenue, which makes it the only measurement you need to determine success. Sales team members want one thing: to meet or exceed their quota. Sales leaders want the same and subsequently set this quota high enough to allow the company to meet their revenue goals.


When you measure revenue via quota attainment, other supportive leading indicators will make sense like sales cycle time, win rates, engagement statistics, and so on. In most cases a great CRM, Marketing automation platform, or ABM platform will help you determine those measurements that provide clarity in adjusting your efforts for the best success.


In any event, I do encourage you to know your numbers. Knowing your revenue per customer and churn rate tells you how many new customers you need to add and at what rate. You’ll need to understand how much effort it takes to garner a response, like how many touches before your prospects engage. How many calls do you need to make to create enough meetings? These numbers tell you how much effort you need to ensure to have the opportunities to talk to people and make the sale.


A contrasting way to look at this is to back into the number by dividing your quota by the number of hours you have to work on it. While difficult to plan activities this way, it can definitely give you a great view of what wasted time costs you!


Summary: Achieving Sales & Marketing Alignment


Did you notice that no where in this paper did I reference lead source or attribution? I opened with that claim that attribution doesn’t matter when sales and marketing are both focused on revenue.


With a few steps you’re off to sales and marketing alignment panacea! The journey begins with a little faith, some learning, mutual trust, and getting started. You recognize the unique characteristics and methodologies of each profession - marketing and sales - which are very different from one another. But when they’re aligned they’re perfectly complementary as we work hard to understand the value we’re delivering to the individuals and buying committees we’re selling to.


And no path is perfect the first time you walk it. So I encourage you to start, measure, and iterate along the way. Keep your focus on the revenue goal and agree to the terms you take in the collaborative effort.


Finally, for all your effort, you might still find you’re missing the mark. In those cases, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I would be happy to help you create an aligned sales and marketing organization suited for your unique situation.


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